Majella Ballard, a project officer for Hands Up Mallee discussed the work of the collective impact initiative Hands Up Mallee as part of a panel discussion at the QCOSS State Conference in May 2018.

Hands Up Mallee is a collective impact initiative that channelled the voice, aspirations and priorities of 1,600 community members into the development of their common agenda. 

They also formed and enabled a diverse Community Leaders Table of 20 citizens to join with government and service leaders to determine the agenda for their community. 

The Community Leaders Table’s role includes building social connections in community to move towards a common agenda of a connected community where families matter and children thrive.

Watch and listen to Majella discuss the work of the initiative.


We’re actually far enough away from things that we are pretty experienced and used to strong partnerships - we've been doing them for a good 10 or 15 years before we discovered collective impact. We realised that we'd had some pockets of wins some drug issues, with particularly ice. Other things like youth disengagement from schools and mental health in the community, so we've had some pockets of wins.

But when we looked at our social determinants of health and what the data was telling us we really haven't shifted anything in the right direction at all, despite a lot of best efforts. We knew what really in reflection we were missing the voice of a community and that's where collective impact, which we learn about in 2015, changes the course of how we go about things.

So, we've established Hands Up Mallee, a collective impact initiative and basically it's where everybody just stops comes together, and I mean everybody from the community, the private sector, and the service sector, and government, to decide upon what is one area to start working collectively, to get, to see some impact.

And so, we did, that takes time, we're a small team we don't have a lot of resources at all, pretty well the budget just to pay for our wages, so we leveraged heavily on our relationships within the service sector and community.

So, in June 2016, we gave ourselves for twelve months to come up with our common agenda and that takes time. So up until that point we're pretty much service sector driven, and we knew that if we were going to get a different result we needed to engage community. So, we set an aspirational goal that we would have conversations, with the true contextual experts of social economic and health inequity. And for a good portion of our community that was them.

But we had community conversations for 2017, pretty well that was our work. The unusual suspects that we gathered together also to help lead our work is a group that we call their community leaders table, so we started to look for them as well. A community conversation, or community consultation for us, is not a once off with Hands Up Mallee it's just a way of doing things.

So, oh thank you. So, in 2017 our largest portion of work was our community conversation and see, we, we had a resource that we built that's the front page of it. So, community conversations are a safe place for people to come together and just to talk about their hopes, their goals, their concerns and priorities for their community and for their family and themselves. The conversation kit that we used as a tool that was carefully and beautifully designed by a team of novices but really it was a simple six questions and a snapshot of our key social indicator data. Which to our surprise and many people in our community had no idea about how we were traveling as a community.

So, on your conference app just to encourage people to if you're interested in any of what I'm saying there's a PDF at the bottom of my profile and you can click on that get to some web resources. We're very transparent about how we go about things we build the aeroplane as we're flying at 10,000 feet so if you kind of work like that you can see a bit of a how to do that and survive in those documents.

So, the intent of our community conversations was really for community to have their voice heard in the development of our common agenda and to that end we reached one thousand six hundred and fourteen voices. We only have about 55,000 people in our whole local government area, so we think we did okay. We had three ways for people to have those conversations with us perhaps online, or our service provider partners would have conversations with their clients or we as a backbone team went out into community.

And we actually had a band of helpers which I'll talk about in just a moment, because that was a pretty good outcome all around to help us get to that number. The questions were easily understood by all the demographics in our community and that's really important. They had a way of breaking down the barriers and allowing people just to open up and express their thoughts, and even though it took from 40 to 60 minutes to have a conversation, we found that people were super engaged all the way through. Which was fabulous. And we took the time to test the process, I think this is really important for teams figuring out the how to do things, we took time to test with our partner agencies.

The one, maternal, child maternal child health nurse gave us this feedback she said she was sitting on the floor with a mother and a baby and that's where they held the conversation. The mother expressed that it was the first time that anybody had really asked her about her thoughts on these sorts of issues and how good it made her feel so when we were getting that kind of feedback we knew that we were on track.

This is a beautiful part of our river front parklands, but we even had conversations in places like this, so you've got to be prepared to get out of your everyday and go where people are.

Given that people in our community with a lived experience of inequity have reported that their voices weren't often heard, like the mum with a baby, we tracked carefully about who we had conversations with and that was really important where we needed to change tact to ensure that we heard from the men in our community, for example, our indigenous community is another really good example, in our cultural groups.

Our service partners were huge supporters, but they said we want to have conversations with our clients but we're finding it difficult to have time. One of them made the suggestion for a group of community service diploma students from the local TAFE, who are about to do a placement, to have conversations on our behalf. And this is really how they've got so many voices included in the conversation. But what it did was that also joined up the students and the TAFE, so now every year that course includes this sort of social research. But it also joined up the service providers that when they saw the students work as a team and a body across the community, they started to feel really comfortable about doing that as well.

Just to give you a bit of an example of the cultural groups that we connected with, for example, our Indigenous community is about four per cent of our population and out of the 1,600 voices six percent of them were Indigenous. We would have liked for more the important thing was it was on people's own terms, hence the location, and the time, and the way in which we would have conversations. you can never underestimate the power of the conversation to genuinely listen and then explore the things of what your community is saying and that's what our conversations did. You can look on that conference app and really dig deep into how it all turned out and what we learned from our community. We were novices at it so please don't think you need necessarily to have enough money to get a highfalutin consultant give you some consultant babble, you can actually do it yourself and we've tried to be transparent about how we've learnt and went about it.

The big take homes for us were that to keep we kept asking ourselves are we engaging with the people who really have a stake in these issues and if, if, the answer was with no, we're not sure, we then changed our approach. So, agility is important. We would really encourage teams to be okay with uncertainty ‘cos the minute we've got certain about something then we were ready to jump off and test again. You eventually land on stuff that you're certain on and then you really want to go to explore the other alternatives, so be comfortable with uncertainty.

Keep asking and thinking about things as if you're from the audience's point of view and also the information that we received we treated with the utmost of respect, right down to how we were during the conversations but also how we managed all that information and made sense of it.

So, I guess my best advice is to you know continue to be humble and sincere in your approach, we don't have to be an expert. And to listen and learn but also be ready to be changed.

So, in late 2016, we put a call out to those unusual suspects I mentioned earlier, and we began to form our community leaders table. There’s about 40 of those unusual suspects that come together now on a regular monthly basis. They’re from CEOs to mums and dads and everything in between. We really, we took them on a journey of building trust with one another in capacity. It was quite an extraordinary thing to be a part of and so we held each other accountable to not jump to solutions and jump to assumptions and programmatic responses. And just to learn and listen from each other. And then when we had all of our data and all of our evidence and we brought the service system together again with our community leaders table in June 2017 we decided on our common agenda.

So, it does take time for those of you who are in the beginnings of collective impact initiatives. So, our common agenda is broad but it's for a connected community, where families matter, and children thrive. Our focus is broad, so we decided that we must start in the first one thousand days of life, we actually will cover over the next year and a half right through the age of 25.

We have two shared approaches people supporting people and that's really the domain of our community leaders table, because they're their roles specifically to keep people as a part of the solution, and not separated as the problem. And also strengthening families and our scope is prevention and early intervention.

Yes I've only got two more slides, very quickly, the, the, next step for us was to move to action so we are using a systems approach to, to, do that and results based accountability to measure our success, those things are always super interesting, but you need to dig deep a bit, to get all the details not enough time now to talk about them.

We went out of our way, we mapped the way of things, so we asked people in the system when it comes to the first 1000 days what does it take to help or to hinder a healthy welcome and safe start. And when we did that over and over again and then we looked at all the stories and we looked at the patterns and we made sense, so in our map, which we've shared just recently, there's no one organisation or service depicted in the map. You won't find a name of an organisation there so it's a really blame free new way to have a conversation. And we're finding that doing this systems approach is, is, allowing people to, to, really explore new ways to influence the system and they feel really empowered, so it's interesting work I'm really happy to talk with anybody about it later on, and hopefully that's brought something to the table for you all, thanks.

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